America's Mask Makers Face Post-Pandemic Meltdown

Updated: May 19

By Reuters

This article was published in Reuters May 11, 2021. We're sharing because it could pertain to the work of SPESA members who pivoted production lines to focus on the development of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic. It also highlights the ongoing competition from Chinese manufacturers.


The small U.S. manufacturers that rushed to produce face masks over the past year are now stuck with hundreds of millions of unsold face coverings because China is flooding the market with below-cost masks, and most may not survive the end of the pandemic.


That's the thrust of a letter to President Joe Biden released Tuesday by a trade group representing 26 small manufacturers that set up production of the badly needed safety items as the health crisis took hold last year.


The manufacturers said over half their production would be forced offline in 60 days if they don't get immediate federal aid, costing thousands of jobs. They blame low-priced imports, especially from China.


"We write to you with a request for immediate help against unfair trade practices by foreign nations that threaten the viability of the U.S. domestic PPE mask manufacturing industry, as well as future U.S. pandemic preparedness efforts," the newly formed group, the American Mask Manufacturer's Association, said in the letter.

The group said they have capacity to produce 3.7 billion surgical masks and more than 1 billion of the higher-protection N95 masks a year - and are now sitting on stockpiles of 260 million surgical masks in their warehouses that they are struggling to sell. Another 20 million N95s are also on factory shelves.


When masks were in short supply last year, prices surged. But prices have now crashed, and hospital administrators and others are shopping for the best prices in a market crowded with new offerings.


A box of 50 surgical masks which sold for more than $50 a year ago can be found for $5 now.